Archbishop Charles Scicluna Archbishop Charles Scicluna 

Archbishop Scicluna on 'universal law' to protect minors

Archbishop Charles Scicluna, Adjunct Secretary of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith and an expert in the fight against abuse, shares his thoughts on Pope Francis' updates to "Vos estis lux mundi," and says one important change is a "detailed procedure for reporting and investigating allegations against lay people at the head of international associations."

By Salvatore Cernuzio

Archbishop Charles Scicluna, the Archbishop of Valletta, Malta, since 2018, serving as Adjunct Secretary of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, has always been involved in combating the scourge of abuse by clergy.

In the following interview with Vatican News, he illustrates the importance of the changes introduced on Saturday by Pope Francis in his update of 'Vos estis lux mundi,' the motu proprio promulgated in 2019 with which the Pope introduced procedural rules to combat sexual abuse and ensure that bishops and religious superiors are held accountable for their actions. 

Q: Archbishop Scicluna, what is the main change brought to Vos estis lux mundi in order to promote its better application almost four years after its entry into force? 

The first fundamental point is the very fact that the Pope confirms the law promulgated in 2019 and confirms it as a universal law of the Church, no longer ad experimentum. It is a very important law because, among other things, some new elements are introduced in the history of Canon Law, such as the criminal relevance of the abuse of a vulnerable adult.

Among the changes is a further clarification of who the victims of abuse are. Previously, we spoke of minors and vulnerable persons, now we also speak of 'vulnerable adults' and 'persons who habitually have an imperfect use of reason'. What does this specification mean? 

It is a harmonisation between two laws of 2021. Two years ago, Pope Francis promulgated a new version of the Particular Law that lists the rights reserved to the competence of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith and also a Motu proprio by which he revised the Chapter in the Code of Canon Law that speaks of penal sanctions. So, there is a harmonisation between these laws that speak of a very painful, but also very important, subject for pastoral care.

Q: The norms now apply not only to clerics and religious, but also to lay people who, we read, are, or have been, moderators of international associations recognised by the Apostolic See. Does this also refer to movements and ecclesial realities?

Definitely. This is one of the strongest changes in this version of Vos estis lux mundi. We are in the second part that gives the Church a detailed procedure on the reporting and investigation of allegations against persons in the Church leadership. In the 2019 document, this leadership included cardinals, patriarchs, bishops, and clerics appointed as pastors in the particular Churches, while in today's text, the Pope introduces two new categories: clerics who have been at the head of a public, clerical, incardinated association, and then lay faithful who have been moderators of international associations recognised by the Holy See.

Q: How much did recent news cases involving leaders of ecclesial realities influence this further specification? 

It must be said that some things in the public domain have already been reported and proceeded to trial... This law concerns the future and makes it very clear that when it comes to an allegation against a lay person in the leadership of an international association, reference must be made to this particular law which has become universal.

Q: The document specifies that dioceses and eparchies must be provided with organizations and offices which must be easily accessible to the public for reporting cases of abuse. This, too, is a further step. What is it due to?

It is the request for a widespread presence as a sign of the attention of the particular Church but also of the universal Church that wants to make it easier to report and feasible what is indicated in Article 5 on the care of persons.

In fact, the Article in question establishes that the Church authorities must commit themselves so that those who claim to have been offended, together with their families, are treated with dignity and respect and are offered welcome, listening and accompaniment through specific services of spiritual assistance, medical, therapeutic and psychological assistance according to the specific case. Hence, not only listening centres where people can make a report, but also places where people can be cared for.

Q: What changes with regard to the accountability of bishops? 

The law is a procedure that the Pope offers for the reporting and investigation of abuses affecting the leadership, but it does not in itself change the attitude, mentality and capacity to react.

The law remains an opportunity and also a tool, but it is up to us to assimilate the values engraved in these regulations and apply them. Behind the law, therefore, there must be the will, so often encouraged and advocated by Pope Francis, for feasible solidarity.

The Pope very often repeats this phrase: 'When one of us suffers, we all suffer'. If there is this attitude of solidarity, if there is the thirst for justice of which Jesus speaks, but also the will to do good, then the law becomes a living instrument, otherwise, like all laws, it could remain a dead letter.

Q: We see in the news, as well as from various investigations carried out within dioceses, with the help of independent commissions appointed by the Bishops' Conferences themselves, that unfortunately the scourge of abuse in the past as in the present is not extinct. With this fight carried out by the Pope, has there been any progress? 

First of all, there is now a highly evolved legislative framework. Now there is a need for the training of people in leadership, as well as widespread training to make it easier for people to speak out if there is a problem.

Besides the legal instruments, there is also the very clear, transparent and beautiful magisterium of Pope Francis, which we must all treasure.

Thank you for reading our article. You can keep up-to-date by subscribing to our daily newsletter. Just click here

25 March 2023, 12:00